So we’re out of the EU.
Although I’ve lived in the UK over 30 years, I still play the role of casual observer even during times of great upheaval. This does not mean I’m short of an opinion or two, it simply means I know when to put up and when to shut up. Regarding the national catharsis that is Brexit – I thought I was voting for the UK entry in the Eurovision Song Contest so what do I know? – something that has always thrown me is hearing the British refer to the continent as Europe.
“Why do you want to leave the EU?”
“It’s Europeans… they’re all bonkers.”
“But aren’t you Europeans as well?”
“Are Canadians American?”
For some it’s much more straightforward while for others it’s a case of perspective. After years of soul-searching, many British have reluctantly conceded that they have no affinity whatsoever with foreign tongues, Carl Jung and snail croquette in vinaigrette. They genuinely enjoy visiting their European cousins on holiday but also enjoy returning home again, to the UK, where they believe good fences make good neighbours. So the guilt complex and hand-wringing need to end because Britain is no different from anyone else who decides to call time on a relationship that isn’t working.
Growing up in Toronto I had classmates from Italy, Greece, France, Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Spain, The Netherlands, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Japan, Vietnam, Korea and thought nothing of it. Everyone was from everywhere. I myself was the son of immigrants and knew what it was like to be a hybrid kid: Canadian-sounding with accented parents who ate some pretty weird food.
And a large portion of my diet back then was ethnic humour – not racist humour – ethnic humour. There’s a difference and even as a kid I knew an ethnic joke from a slur because I was raised properly in a good community. On TV I’d watch Joan Rivers tell Jewish jokes, Richard Pryor tell black jokes, Dean Martin tell Italian jokes and Don Rickles tell jokes about everyone. And everyone laughed because we all recognised our own cultural eccentricities within them, along with those relatives certain jokes described to a tee.
Tell these same jokes today and you’ll be arrested by the Fun Police.
The referendum was, of course, about more than Polish plumber jokes. There were serious constitutional and inter-governmental sore points between the UK and the EU which neither side could resolve. This, however, doesn’t mean we’re no longer friends who can share a laugh among ourselves.
We’re simply getting rid of the joint bank account and the in-laws.
So then, what about the future?
Well, my guess is that nothing will change because nothing ever does. The British will still holiday ‘in Europe’, continentals will still come here to take selfies with the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and the French, as is their way, will continue to dine on creatures we wouldn’t even poke with a stick.
Plus ça change, eh?